Division Street, and The Bonsai That Unite

0

May 16, 2022, San Clemente- The drunken man, professing White Supremacy, yelled at me to “Get lost”, as I walked along El Camino Real, in this Orange County beach town. I guess the t-shirt I’m wearing, with its Baha’i logo, set him off. I kept walking and he drove off.
Baha’u’llah does state that “Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education, however, hath deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess.”- Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 259. Nowhere, of course, does He limit this bounty to any particular group of people.

Last night, at FOUND Hotel, in San Diego’s Little Italy, there were a few folks who were acting mighty lost, while saying they wished others-particularly the homeless who wanted to be let in, would get lost. No hostel, or residential hotel, is equipped to handle random homeless people wandering in off the streets. There has been progress made in sheltering, in many cities, but the task is looking Sisyphean. The number of units and condominia, catering to the uberwealthy are increasing at a rate outpacing those that provide for people in lower income brackets. Those who are experiencing homelessness, particularly in communities where housing costs are exorbitant-almost to an unconscionable level, are also finding their numbers increasing. Division Street, the nominal and actual social divider, of which Studs Terkel wrote in 1967, has become a metaphor for the country as a whole. Some hard decisions, regarding the accumulation of wealth, at the expense of a great many people, will need to be made in the not-too-distant future. Everyone will need to be at the table for this one.

I needed to change the channel in my head, after seeing so many people encamped in downtown San Diego, along Pacific Coast Highway and near Mission Beach. Revisiting Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden set the right tone. My focus was on the collection of bonsai, now at 18 and looking in on the koi, who were small when I was last there, in 2015.

Here are a few scenes from the Garden. The koi in the pond nearest the entrance have tripled in size, these past seven years.

Three types of bonsai: Pine, flowering and unflowered leafy are on display, in the Garden’s Bonsai Center.

My rejuvenation complete, it was an easy trip northward to Orange County, stopping briefly to complete some business at San Diego Baha’i Center, taking a detour to La Jolla’s sandy beach and another to La Cristianita Historic Site, in Camp Pendleton, which commemorates the first baptism in Alta California.

Tonight, I am comfortably at House of Trestles Hostel, amongst surfers and other lovers of the ocean. Here, everyone feels at home, even the dachshund-chihuahua mix.

Maternal

4

May 8, 2022- The answering machine greeted me, both times, yesterday. There was thus no direct conversation between us-and I can hear a couple of people in my life saying: “Why only twice? Why didn’t you keep trying?” They don’t know my Mom. She was either out with family or friends, or was asleep from having been out with family and friends.

Keeping up appearances has never been her style. She honours each of us, three sons and a daughter, as grown men and woman, yet there is always the sense that we are still her babies. She has always greeted me, on my actual visits, or when we do connect by phone, as if I just came back from an errand around the corner. That’s because there is no separation in spirit.

Mom has been ever present, throughout the lives of each of us, and of our children-and my siblings’ grandchildren. I hold out hope that she will live to see my own grandchild(ren)-all in due time. There certainly has been no more powerful force in any of our lives than that of her love. The greatest proof of this was the love and energy she poured into the well-being of my late youngest brother. At no time did she, or my father, forsake that beleaguered soul, and he taught each of us how to love, in return.

When I next see Mom, in late June or early July, I have a sense that she will have a few stories to tell about this Mother’s Day. May it be so, for a few years yet.

Through A Water Wonderland

2

April 5, 2022, Meridian, MS-

The train pulled out of Peachtree Station, nearly an hour behind schedule. We have made progress, by fits and starts, along the way towards New Orleans. Now, we are leaving the commercial hub of eastern Mississippi. This is where the Atlanta crew got off and a crew that will be with us, until New Orleans, has come on.

The journey from Atlanta was through rain, until we got to Birmingham.

Since then, the skies have been clear and the ground has been wet. Wetlands and rivers abound, through the central swath of Alabama and Mississippi. The Black Warrior and Tombigbee are particularly dominant. The former (below) has been made into a series of reservoirs.

Ms. Blackstone, sitting across from me, put the whole concept of why some of us go on journeys into perspective-and one that fits nicely with the conversation I had with my brother, Dave, last night. In her view, each of us who goes out each day, whether close to home or further afield, is on assignment from the Holy Spirit. This helps explain the seeming randomness of some of the events that take place-who we meet, where we meet them and the tenor of our interactions. It also explains both the pleasant and less than pleasant events that happen, and the lessons drawn from each. It also gives me an affirmation that I am on the right course in this life.

In a few short days, I will be back at Home Base, with a full slate of “assignments” from the Creator of us all. I wish Ms. Blackstone well, in her daily work and am certain that, despite the dark clouds that encircle so much of humanity, the forces of division and darkness that prey on the fears of so many will fall short in their efforts to ensnare the human race.

Through downpours, tornadoes, bombs and bombast, stay strong.

Hemingway’s Haunt

12

March 24, 2022, Miami Beach-

This is not Papa Hemingway’s house. We never got over there today, but it comes close. This home is representative of the more modest homes in Key West, laid back but every bit as modern as any community in the United States.

Six of us came here, for a three-hour visit, which of course was extended to five hours-once traffic delays resulted in our Noon arrival becoming a 2 p.m. affair. We stayed in Key West proper until 6, then made stops for a couple of ladies to swim at Smathers Beach, as well as at the Southernmost Beach in the Continental United States and for my friends to get a drink at the Southernmost Bar in the Continental United States. We topped the day by taking in the sunset at Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key-home to Key Deer, a mini deer that is only found in the middle Florida Keys. We did not see any deer.

We did enjoy butterflies, though, and two raucous flamingos. One butterfly landed on my broad-brimmed sun hat and another on the shoulder of one of the ladies. I will share a photo of my butterfly attempted-hitchhiker, when it is sent me by my friendly photographer. Here, in the meantime, are the flamingos.

Here are a few scenes from the Southernmost Beach in the Continental United States.

Next is Smathers Beach, east of Key West.

Key West is a one-of-a-kind experience, even with a five hour drive from Miami.

Facing Down Machismo

2

March 23, 2022, Miami Beach- The belligerent man demanded I leave the small gathering, to which I’d been invited by a fellow hosteler from Nigeria. The angry one’s tone was fueled by alcohol, but was rooted in machismo. His whole premise was that no other man (other than the African gentleman, whom he somehow did not view as a threat) should be present at the table, whilst he was socializing with four women.

He correctly stated that a man my age had no business “romancing” women young enough to be my daughters, or granddaughters. That’s where the righteousness began to fray at the edges. He himself was old enough to be the father of two of the ladies.

Machismo is a false flag, rooted in insecurity. When he saw that I was not moved by his anger, a thoughtfulness, rooted in surety, took hold of the man, and he apologized profusely for his earlier outburst. It helped that the ladies, one of whom was, and remains, not inclined to be friendly towards either one of us, were a bit put off by his vitriol.

I long ago turned my back on machismo, and embraced a more genuine and fulfilling sense of masculinity, which is rooted in the same personhood as femininity. The hopes, dreams, legitimate aspirations of all are to be cherished and supported, regardless of any outward trappings that house a human’s spirit.

With that, I simply close with a scene of a Miami Beach sunset.

“Another Day In Paradise”

2

March 21, 2022, West Melbourne, FL- The day began and ended with the above comment-from two different motel employees: A handyman in Brunswick and a desk clerk here in West Melbourne. Part of my whole reason for being here in the Southeast is to discern how ordinary people are faring, under the blend of libertarianism and laissez-faire economics that is taking deeper root in this part of the country.

I have no issue with any given practice of government when the average person, across ethnicities and genders, is not made to suffer or be left out of a climate of prosperity. So far, I have seen people in places like Brunswick, Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach and Daytona Beach doing fairly well. I have seen a few people in Cape Canaveral and here in the Melbourne area who are not. Much depends on the local economy, but state and Federal policies also impact us.

My first stop in Florida, this morning, was American Beach, on Amelia Island, Florida, once a vacation place for African-Americans, during the days before desegregation. The country’s first African-American millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, established the beach for just this purpose, in 1935. His work was carried on by his granddaughter, MaVynee Betsch, carried on his work of preserving the beach and its Historic District, until her death in 2005. American Beach remains a National Historic Site.

In between visits with family, my focus is on the broader society. Fernandina Beach, the main community on Amelia Island, is Florida’s northeasternmost town. It was the site of a brief battle between American revolutionaries and British troops, in 1777. The area was then controlled by Britain, as the Territory of East Florida. Although the British retained control of the town, there was significant damage done by the Revolutionaries.

Today, Fernandina is a comfortable, bustling holiday place. It was helped, early, by the establishment of Florida’s first Atlantic to Gulf Railroad, from Fernandina to Cedar Key.

After a gyro (pronounced JY-ro, in these parts) on pita, at 4th Street Deli, it was time to see what was up at Daytona Beach International Raceway- as NASCAR is a good barometer of how mainstream America is faring. The Raceway was closed. It’s not racing season, and it is Monday, to boot. Mainstream America was at Buc-ee’s, though, buying scrumptious brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, and a mix of travel essentials/trinkets. I picked up a brisket sandwich-and some rub-on sunscreen, to compensate for the sunblock I left behind in Arizona.

My last stop of the day, before arriving at my lodging, was the city of Cape Canaveral-now primarily a shipping port. The slowness of the recent supply chain difficulties, themselves partly arising from the Coronavirus Pandemic, seems to have affected the town, though I saw commercial traffic somewhat steady this afternoon. The Kennedy Space Center, west of Cape Canaveral, may be an early morning stop, tomorrow, and may offer a better sense of how the community is faring, given that Canaveral has been intertwined with America’s efforts in the Cosmos.

It’ll certainly be another day in paradise.

“The Sound of Heaven Touching Earth”

2

March 20, 2022, Brunswick, GA- The feisty preacher had her congregation singing this refrain in unison, as a prelude to her energetic homily, as services proceeded in Mary Ross Waterfront Park, along East River. This is life in Brunswick, after the verdicts in the Ahmaud Arbery case.

The crew at Sunrise Diner is downhome and multiracial. They work tightly together as a team, with no daylight between them, in terms of pecking order or separation. The owner mans the host stand, his mother is floor manager and his son alternates between serving and bussing, with his daughter moving about, acting as both server and hostess. Men of colour are servers, bussers and cooks, but are treated as full members of the team. Regulars were being greeted warmly, as was this visitor-never treated as a stranger. The portions are not overbearing; they are just filling and delicious.

It was important to see this, on the heels of what could have been a good deal less than the move forward that came from the trial. Certainly, there is a lot that could yet be done, in terms of community growth, yet I got the sense that people here want the world to know that they, and much of the rest of the South, are moving forward in a positive way.

The area was settled by James Oglethorpe and his band of colonists in 1738, as Britain was seeking a buffer to Spanish Florida. Oglethorpe was a forward-looking egalitarian, who opposed slavery, well before the majority of colonists were ready to give up the system. For that, he would be ostracized and would leave Georgia for good, in 1743. From then on, Brunswick and Savannah, both platted out by Oglethorpe in an easily navigable manner with lots of green space, would follow the rest of the plantation-bounded communities, in maintaining a culture of black enslavement. A plain monument to him is found in Queen’s Square.

Hanover Square is the largest of three parks designed by James Oglethorpe for Brunswick’s downtown core. It has several live oaks, symbiotic with Spanish moss, a salubrious fountain and a plain monument to Confederate soldiers. This last is the subject of ongoing debate, though it is easily overlooked. So far, there has been no lasting decision made about the small obelisk. Here is a view of the fountain.

Lastly, here are Old City Hall and a view of East River, which is Brunswick’s channel to the sea.

It is important to me to visit and engage those communities at which many may look askance. There is a wellspring of hope rising in Brunswick, as there is in Minneapolis, and many other communities which have found their internal conflicts boiling over. I hope to see this happening in peninsular Florida, as well, in the coming days.

A Good Thing

4

February 15, 2022- Many people seem to be off-track, these past few days. Those on whom I might have placed trust, in the past, to the extent I trust anyone, seem distracted and less than reliable. It’s a good thing that I trust mostly myself, my immediate family-and a close friend or two. I have had my own encounters with the strange energy that seems to have permeated the community.

My spirit guides have advised not using essential oil drops, when I take water with my supplements at night. That seems to have a calming effect-too much of anything is not beneficial. I also am remembering the maxim, from the Four Agreements, that nothing others do has anything to do with me. Every soul has own struggles. It’s a good thing to remember, in days like these.

The wind, Covid, the full moon, overwork-any or all of these could be behind the odd behaviours I’ve been witnessing. So far, these don’t seem to be affecting the kids. My next gig is on Thursday, with a well-mannered and hard-working set of 10-11 year olds. It’s a good thing that much of this energy will have passed by then.

The Fruits of Glasgow’s Flowering

2

December 28, 2021, Santa Fe- In any meanderings, one never can be quite sure as to what will be encountered-especially in a quality museum. The greater part of this morning brought a new appreciation for the creativity of the Scottish Lowlands, a place I’ve yet to see.

After sleeping as if on a cloud, at Albuquerque’s Monterey Inn, I headed back to Old Town, and Blackbird Coffee House. Breakfast was put off a bit, as I grappled, along with a nice family from Texas, with the parking registration machine-which was out of paper. Fortunately, neither of us were visited by a parking warden, in the time spent enjoying a meal. Blackbird delivered nicely, as it always has.

Following quiche and coffee, I headed over to the Albuquerque Museum. As it happens, the headlining exhibit is showcasing The Four, a pair of related married couples whose heyday was Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle, when the great British port and industrial giant was in full ferment-followed by full flowering, from the 1890s until World War I. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret Macdonald, her sister, Frances Macdonald and brother-in-law, James Herbert McNair were the prime movers behind the neo-Renaissance of the Scottish Lowlands at the turn of the Twentieth Century, thus becoming known as The Four. They drew their influences from previous groups of Glasgow artists, notably the “Glasgow Boys” of the mid-Nineteenth Century, but also the Celtic Revival and Japonisme artistic movements, which emerged in Gilded Age Britain. The Four were also called Spook School, by more conventional art critics, due to their distortions of the human form. As an architectural designer, however, Charles Mackintosh relied largely on rectangular sketches. His great buildings, including Hill House and the Willow Tearooms, of late Victorian Glasgow, chartered by the entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, as well as The Lighthouse, now the site of Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.

The Four were completely-rounded artists, producing not only buildings, but ornate and solidly-constructed furniture, a variety of paintings, fabric art and metallurgy. One of their prime acolytes, Anne Macbeth, was largely responsible for bringing embroidery into its own, as an art form that became a staple in secondary school arts curricula.

The Mackintoshes eventually relocated to London, while the McNairs, remaining in Glasgow, found their fortunes fading. Frances died in 1921, after which her disconsolate husband destroyed nearly all of her work. Charles and Margaret kept their body of work in trust, and it remains curated by various art galleries in Glasgow and in London.

Those of us who have the fortune to visit the Albuquerque Museum, until January 22, are thus treated to an appreciation of Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle flowering.

There is furniture:

Gesso (pronounced JE-so) is a hard plaster of Paris compound, usually applicable to sculpture or painted wood.

Repousse’ is the process of hammering a metal piece into relief, from the back side.

While the Glasgow Style itself faded, after World War I, the influence of The Four was long felt, as far afield as Vienna and Dresden, as well as here in the United States. Art Nouveau developed alongside Glasgow Style, and was profoundly influenced by the work of The Four, and any of the more than 70 other adherents of the Style.

After ninety minutes of immersion in the work of the Mackintoshes, McNairs and their colleagues, I spent an hour or so with New Mexico’s own avant garde. There are provocative depictions of religious themes and modernistic expressions of Native American spirituality. Young Indigenous people love science fiction as much as any of their contemporaries. I leave you with a depiction, by Tony Price-not a Native himself, but one inspired by Indigenous lore.

Summits Are Only A Beginning

8

April 23, 2021- I have never been to Ciudad de Mexico. The fifth-largest metropolitan area on the planet, it is also the second-largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. Ciudad de Mexico may soon become the locus of the worst ecological nightmare that humanity has seen, in several centuries. The Valley of Mexico, indeed, the entire middle swath of the country, is experiencing the worst drought it has seen, in nearly a millennium. Central Mexico, as a whole, may very well be running out of water.

We in the Southwest of the United States (including southern California) have also been experiencing drought. The occasional snow and rain that we have received, since last autumn, have not done much to put a dent in the dryness. Only more judicious use of our water has, and will continue to, keep our communities from literally blowing away in the desert wind.

It is an irony, that the first place to which people in Mesoamerica turn, when faced with economic hardship, or sociopolitical repression, is the American southwest-from San Diego to Houston-and everywhere in between. We have done relatively well here, economically, though the underbelly of homelessness and economic inequality is as much a concern in the Southwest as it is anywhere on the planet. A splinter wedged under my fingernail hurts just as badly as it would under anyone else’s. So we go about being concerned with our own, first and foremost.

All the same, those who express disdain for the current immigration impasse at the border between Mexico and the United States must brace themselves for what will happen, should the water crisis in central Mexico worsen. The six-figure populace massing near, and permeating, that arbitrary line could all too easily morph into millions, or tens of millions, of people.

The Group of Twenty summit, convened virtually, on addressing climate change, is a tad behind schedule, through no fault of those who gathered. That said, it is painfully obvious that every single person on the planet has a role to play in conservation and better use of resources-especially of our planet’s basic elements (water, air, soil/minerals, and fire). It falls as much to local teams, neighbourhoods and families to double down on meeting the challenge of climate change. Everything from taking shorter, though equally intense, showers to intelligently recycling items that won’t decompose (and not just depending on municipal contractors to do the job), is the responsibility of everyone who enjoys running water and non-decomposable packaging. Providing clean water for drinking and bathing, to those who lack this basic resource, is a whole other topic.

These are the thoughts that come to mind, after the G-20’s most recent summit.